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Paqui's “One Chip Challenge” contributed to Harris Wolobah's death

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Massachusetts officials said a teenager's death last year stemmed from his participation in the viral One Chip Challenge. Fourteen-year-old Harris Wolobah's death was due in part to the seasoning of the chip, according to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety.

On Sept. 1, police discovered that Harris was unresponsive after he threw one containing Carolina Reaper pepper and Naga Viper pepper as part of a social media “One Chip Challenge” created by the company Paqui had eaten a dusted corn chip. Wolobah died in a hospital later that day.

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety told USA TODAY on Thursday that Wolobah's death was caused by a heart attack caused by eating the spicy chip. The 10th grader also had a condition that resulted in an enlarged heart as well as a heart defect in which an artery runs through the heart muscle instead of lying on the surface of the heart.

Harris' “cardiopulmonary arrest” occurred “in connection with recent ingestion of a dietary substance with a high concentration of capsaicin,” OCME spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll told USA TODAY.

Capsaicin is another word for chili pepper extract.

A spokesman for chipmaker Paqui told USA TODAY the One Chip Challenge is intended for adults only.

“We were and are deeply saddened by the death of Harris Wolobah and extend our condolences to his family and friends,” said spokeswoman Kim Metcalfe. “Paquis One Chip Challenge was intended for adults only, with clear and conspicuous labeling indicating that this is the product.” Not suitable for children or anyone with sensitivity to spicy foods or who have health problems.

UNEXPECTED DEATH 'We've lost a rising star': Teen dies after One Chip Challenge

What was the Paqui One Chip Challenge?

In 2023, chip brand Paqui promoted its “One Chip Challenge,” in which consumers attempt to eat an entire tortilla chip coated in flakes of the extremely hot Carolina Reaper pepper and Naga Viper pepper.

After Harris' death in September, the chipmaker worked with retailers to remove the hot chips from shelves and the challenge was dropped, Metcalfe said.

In social media posts from before the teen's death, users challenged each other to try eating the chip and see how long they could stop eating or drinking anything else afterward.

In 2023, there was a warning on the label on the chip company's homepage that read as follows:

  • The chip is intended for adult consumption only and should be kept “out of the reach of children.”
  • People who are sensitive to spicy foods or allergic to “peppers, nightshades, or capsaicin” should not eat the chip.
  • The chip is not suitable for pregnant women.
  • The chip should not be taken by anyone suffering from a medical condition.

On Thursday, Metcalfe said the product met food safety standards and that despite the warnings, over the past year the company “saw frequent reports of teenagers and others not heeding these warnings.”

Anna Harden

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